Archive for April, 2009


photo by Gil R., desserts by Andrew

You know you’re going to an Israeli event when the invitation states:

If you do attend, you’ll need a valid ID with you, no extra bags will be allowed nor weapons.

And there was nowhere else I wanted to be last night but surrounded by Israelis when the sun was setting and Yom HaZikaron — Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror — bled  into Yom HaAtzmaut — Independence Day. No strangers to symbolism, Israel starts Yom HaZikaron with a 2 minute siren and the country stops and stands in silence. It knows that its birth and continued existence are owed to the soldiers who protect its citizens, those who have been lost to terror attacks, and those who continue to be missing in action or in captivity. In a land of mandatory conscription, no one needs a reminder of this connection.

But you get a group of Israelis in a room and about the only thing (besides that um, interesting Maxim women of the IDF PR attempt by the Israeli government which in my opinion was creative though clearly a bit unbalanced) that can get their attention before the speakers begin is a video on a big screen that sounds something like Stomp (a personal favorite, given my previous tap dancing percussive days).

Starring Shekatek and created for Israel’s 60th Birthday last year; shows some of the best of Israel – its agriculture, technology (especially the biotech that I love!), cultural diversity, the beach, powerful women, tall dark men, all those religions, the serenity, the street culture and foods, the diversity, the beach (oh, did I mention that already?)

Nadav Tamir, Consul General of Israel to New England, then spoke, followed by Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley. The themes of their comments focused on friendship and partnership between the US and Israel, the importance of Israel as a strong democracy, and Israel as a country of high tech innovation (with Coakley citing statistics such as Israel having one of the highest per-capita rates of patents and companies on the NASDAQ). I was also personally touched by Coakley’s mention of Israel’s significant work in the area of  family violence given that my last visit centered on some of these issues.

flowers for Yom HaAtzmaut

Full of Israeli pride, I decided to make a dish from my new favorite cookbook with the “burnt eggplant” technique that Janna Gur demonstrated in her class and that I have mastered over the past few weeks. Gur said that her mother used to call this dish “the reds and the blues” because of the tomatoes juxtaposed against the eggplants. Eggplants are called chatzilim in Hebrew and are ubiquitous in the country. When rationing was in effect during the early years of statehood, newspapers and radio gave advice on making the most out of available food, and eggplant recipes abounded, yielding a mock chopped liver that most of my NY friends won’t have a Central Park picnic without. Traditional chatzilim salad adds some garlic, oil or mayo, and lemon juice. I like Gur’s milder tomato addition. Need I point out the symbolism of the red tomatoes and one of Israel’s (“blue”) national dishes, paired together like the the flags? Probably not, but subtlety has never been my forté.


Yom HaAtzmaut Chatzilim, or “the Reds and the Blues”

chatzilim on toast

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food and dedicated to Israel and the US’s continued strong relationship, a safe return for soldiers in captivity, and fewer new things for all sides to have to remember.

I “burn” the eggplants in my oven since I do not have a gas stove — make sure to prick the eggplants a few times so that they do not explode. The main adaptation I made to Gur’s recipe is that I leave out the garlic and add both onion and tomatoes. I also significantly reduced the amount of oil.

When buying (standard) eggplants like the one on the upper left, they should be dark purple, unblemished, and should feel light for their size. Store them in the refrigerator.

Makes about 3-4 C of salad/dip.

– 2 medium eggplants (or 4-5 slender Thai eggplants)

– 2 tomatoes (to get ~ 1 C grated)

– 1/4 onion (will  use ~1 T grated)

– 2 T vegetable oil

– Salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat your broiler.

Prick skin of eggplants with a fork or knife to prevent an explosion all over your oven. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet just below broiler and check on them every 10 minutes or so, turning them as necessary. The thinner Thai eggplants took about 20-25 minutes and were ready when they turn brown and dry.

One Thai eggplant ready after 20 minutes

The larger eggplant took about 25-30 minutes and you can tell that it is ready when the skin gets thin and papery, turns black in some places, and the eggplant softens and releases juices.

While the eggplants are broiling, prepare the other ingredients. Grate the two tomatoes on the medium sized holes of a box grater – this should yield about 1 cup of  tomato pulp and seeds without skin. Grate a quarter of an onion on the same side of the grater to get a pretty fine (without much work) onion liquid and paste-type consistency. There will be some onion left over — use it in guac or anywhere you like raw onion for a slightly milder flavor, or just use it in place of cooked minced onion. burnt eggplant, grated onion, grated tomato

Allow eggplants to cool – at least 10 minutes. Once cool, you can very easily separate the skins from the flesh.

eggplant flesh removed from skins

Mash the eggplant with a fork or put into a food processor. My preference is a fork. Drain any extra liquid so that the final salad isn’t too watery. Add the grated tomatoes (try to get mainly pulp and less liquid), 1 T grated onion, a few generous pinches of salt and some serious grinds of pepper, and stir everything together. Add 2T oil last.

I love spreading this on toast, or setting atop a plate of greens.

Romanian-style Roasted Eggplant Salad

Am Yisrael Chai! The People of Israel live (and prosper peacefully)!

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kosher french chorizo

Yup. You heard me right. It’s like a whole bunch of oxymorons rolled into one.

Let’s just start from the end and work our way backwards.

Chorizo, a pork sausage. Recipes for homemade chorizo abound, but the image that most often springs to mind is spicy sausage, encased in I don’t even want to know what. Usually spiced with a combination of garlic and peppers, this sausage has its local variations and can be purchased fresh (requiring cooking) or fermented and cured, the former more often in South America, the latter most often in Europe. Mine is from France (and I can’t tell you how I got it!), so it’s the cured version. And meant to be sliced for sandwiches (or thrown atop salads). Clearly my kosher variety is made with beef instead of pork.

For no good reason, I have been holding onto this lovely quasi-contradiction in my fridge for a few months (as a cured meat, it can last quite a while). And then…something struck…and I had to eat some meat (this might sound a little familiar) and I had to have it right then.

Eager to taste this rare delicacy (rare in the kosher world, that is) that I had heard so much about, I dug in with my knife and made a little dinner. I found that, lacking a deli slicer, my bread knife was the next best option. Thinking about cinco de mayo next week, I threw together a quick guac of avocado, grated onion, grated tomato, fresh cilantro, lime juice, salt, and cumin, slathered it on some lavash, added baby greens, spread out my treasured chorizo, and rolled everything up.

quick Mexican-inspired wrap for my chorizo

I ate the wrap standing over the cutting board. No plate. No napkin. Nothing. But you’ll keep my little secret, right?

I heart meat

Mmmmmmmm. I heart charcuterie.

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quinoa mango salad with lime cumin dressing

I’ve been playing around with quinoa since before Passover to find some good recipes; since it’s a great source of non-meat protein, I figured this would be a prefect choice to bring over to lunch with my vegan friend “farmer Laura.” Like tofu or rice, quinoa tends to take on the flavor of its sauce, but I have sometimes been disappointed with quinoa if it isn’t well-dressed.

Actually, I have sometimes been disappointed with people if they aren’t well-dressed. And by this I mean not appropriately attired for the setting. Flip-flops in the lab or an office. White socks with black shoes. White at a wedding if you’re not the bride. A full-Windsor knot tie with a button-down collar. My classmate in the hospital did not appreciate when I shared this commentary with him.

But I digress.

Back to the quinoa. Because I was really happy to find not one, but two, quite well-attired quinoa salads for different moods. One spicy and sweet with the best that  warmer weather has to offer. The other hailing from a warm climate, but  more savory and using mainly pantry staples.

A few words about preparing quinoa. It is pretty versatile and most of the products I’ve seen sold in my neighborhood are pre-rinsed, obviating one preparation step for removing the bitter-tasting saponin covering. The easiest way I’ve found to get fluffy quinoa is to boil quinoa in salted water (1:2 ratio) for about 15 minutes in a covered pot, remove from the heat, fluff with a fork once the water is absorbed, and then allow the quinoa to fully cool in the covered pot. Only add the dressing and other ingredients to quinoa that has cooled to avoid a slimy mess.

Quinoa-Mango Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette

when I found some beautiful watercress!

when I found some beautiful watercress!

Adapted from Julie at Kitchenography’s Quinoa, Watercress and Mango Salad with Lime-Curry Vinaigrette. I eliminated the red pepper, doubled the mango, substituted cumin for curry, and made the dressing a bit sweeter, spicier, and saltier. The star here is the mango,  but the dressing is pretty kicking as well.

Serves 3-4

– 1 cup quinoa, rinsed (if not using pre-rinsed quinoa)

– 2 mangoes, diced

– 1 bunch watercress, stems removed (or 2 handfuls baby spinach in a pinch) – watercress has a bit more assertiveness to balance out the sweetness of the mango

Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette

– Juice of 1 lime (~3 tablespoons) – don’t forget to zest first

– 2 teaspoons cumin

– pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

– 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

– 1 1/2 -2 t brown sugar or honey (my preference is sugar – demura sugar works well also)

– 3 tablespoons canola oil

– Salt and pepper

– Lime zest for garnish

Put 1 C quinoa, 1/2 tsp salt, and 2 C water  in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely.

While quinoa is cooking, whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together (or just put in a small jar and shake) and set aside.

Note – I keep ginger in the freezer. It thaws quite quickly and is easy to grate on a little grater like the one that I bought in Chinatown several years ago (not sure which Northeastern city I was living in and which Chinatown was nearest) or with a Microplane.

grated ginger

When the quinoa has cooled, toss with enough dressing to moisten (about 1/2-2/3 the dressing). Add the watercress (or spinach) and mango, and toss, adding enough additional dressing to lightly coat. Taste for salt and pepper and add additional as appropriate.

Serve garnished with a sprinkle of lime zest and cayenne pepper for color and a kick.


NOTE: you can prepare the quinoa portion with dressing a day or two in advance – the mixture improves as the flavors sit) and then add mango and watercress at the last minute, splashing on some extra dressing. Additionally, leftover salad does equally well in the fridge for a day or two as watercress does not wilt much with this dressing (spinach holds  up almost as well). last bite, still good 2 days later

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Pantry Staples

Mediterranean Quinoa salad

Adapted from Lauren at East Village Kitchen. This is a very simple salad that mainly uses ingredients you have around your pantry, plus fresh basil (that I have on my windowsill). Despite what I have said in the past about sun-dried tomatoes, if you reconstitute them in hot water in the time it takes to cook the quinoa, they will be pretty good and the right consistency (but don’t let them soak for too long!) — I prefer this to the jarred, packed in oil variety.

Serves 3-4

– 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes

– 3 T olive oil, divided

– 1 onion, chopped

– 1 C quinoa, rinsed if not using pre-rinsed

– 1/4 C white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

– 1 lemon

– fresh basil

– salt and peppers to taste

Cut sun-dried tomatoes into strips with kitchen shears and cover with boiling water. Soak for 15-20 minutes while preparing quinoa (DO NOT SOAK FOR LONGER!). Drain water and allow reconstituted tomatoes to cool in ~1 T of olive oil.

Heat 1-2T olive oil in saucepan over medium heat and saute chopped onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Add 1 C quinoa and 2 C water (or follow instructions on quinoa package) to pot containing translucent onions and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely.

Once quinoa has cooled, add vinegar and about 2 T of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste).

Add sun-dried tomatoes plus the olive oil that they have been sitting in. The oil is now also infused with some of the tomato flavor.

Chifonnade a small handful of fresh basil (~1/2 C) over the top (again, kitchen shears are pretty handy here if you want to take a short-cut ) and mix with quinoa. As the basil gets crushed, its flavor releases and mixes with that of the concentrated tomatoes.

Add salt and pepper to taste. If too acidic, add a splash of olive oil. Like the other quinoa recipe, this one also improves with about a day in the fridge.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

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sangria sorbet, take 2

I was really bothered by my recent attempt at sangria sorbet. So disappointed with it that I threw it out.

But when I spied some strawberries on my neighbor’s counter, I grabbed them and promised to bring them back in a fun new form. I knew that redemption was mine. I decided to focus on the sangria experience instead of just making the sorbet. This time, I made good sangria and let it sit for a day in the fridge. Only when all the flavors had mixed did I even consider freezing this concoction. And while I waited, patiently this time, I recalled my first authentic sangria. In Spain. By the water. With a cool wind blowing around 10 pm as the sun was finally setting.

I was on my first trip to Spain – and was in Barcelona to be exact. I was taking the post-college graduation, not quite backpacking, trip through a few western European countries. Four weeks, four countries. And even though I was stubborn enough to pack everything into a backpack, I could not carry that monstrosity. So I had to buy a set of wheels to bungee cord my backpack to — it was never evenly balanced, I might add — and totter that thing from train station to hotel over cobblestones every few days.

Because, you see, the countries that I organized (and I use that term loosely since organizing involved choosing a city, a date, and a train; all our hotels except for 2 were booked on the fly) involved only one or two select cities. Here’s how I travel – I pick a home base and work from there. For that trip: England = London; France = Paris + Nice; Italy = Venice + Florence. Then a few day trips as desired. I admit, it was just a trip of highlights, but I needed to stay sane, and I knew I’d be back.

My travel companion and boyfriend, on the other hand, had never been out of the country (you can see why I added camembert as a litmus test) and he wanted Spain since he had studied Spanish in school. So Spain was his. And he was not good at prioritizing. In our 7 days 0f Spain, we went to Barcelona, Pamplona, San Sebastian (we had to follow Hemingway’s travels), Madrid, and Seville. By Seville, I was exhausted. And hot. And really sick of trains. And frustrated that I never knew what was going on around me.

But our first evening in Barcelona was amazing. I could still speak French and sort of be understood. We ate near the port and the cool breeze was welcome. Tapas was new and inviting and vegetarian options abounded. Most importantly, our introduction to real Spanish sangria was one made with “xampagne.” I remember strolling back from dinner along the wide boulevards, intoxicated by the bubbly sangria, the hints of Gaudí, and the anticipation of a week of exploring the complete unknown.

Looking back with a bit more perspective and without all that luggage and those horrible wheels, that week in Spain was a pretty great whirlwind and introduction to the diversity of the country. The architecture of Barcelona. An all-night party in Pamplona followed by sitting on a rickety wooden fence as the bulls torpedoed by. The train (bus? I can’t recall) to San Sebastián for a mini siesta by the water and to sleep off our prior evening, and then on to Mardid for a real bull fight. And finally arriving, travel weary, for a relaxing few days in the in the very hot, tapas-rich, flamenco stomping and twirling Sevilla.

And it started with that xampagne sangria.


sangria sorbet with mandarin liqueur

I still make this sorbet with leftover ingredients – wine and fruit – that I have in the kitchen (or that I’ve scavenged from my neighbor’s kitchen) rather than seeking out xampagne. The trick I found is making a sangria (slightly sweeter than you’d drink) and letting it sit for a good day.

Makes 4-6 servings

1 C strawberries – need not be beautiful, better to be a bit over-ripe actually

1 orange

1 C dry red wine – I used a Cabernet

1.5 C 1:1 simple syrup (essentially a scant cup sugar dissolved in a scant cup boiling water)

2 shots orange liqueur (~1/4 C) – e.g., Cointreau; here I used Bartenura Mandarino because it was still Passover.

Rinse berries and remove any bad spots (mushy, etc.). Slice into small pieces – it doesn’t matter how you slice them because they will get pureed later.

Add orange zest and juice, including pulp. This will probably yield about 1/3 C juice.

Add wine, syrup, and liqueur and allow to sit at room temperature for several hours and then refrigerate overnight. The mix should taste a little bit sweeter than you would want for mere drinking (mere drinking? I’ll leave it to you decide if you can ever merely drink sangria…).

Freeze in sealed container. This mix froze solid for me overnight. Woohoo!

frozen solid!

frozen solid!

Remove from refrigerator for 30 minutes and then use immersion blender to puree berries and aerate sorbet.

getting ready to use the immersion blender...you can see a few orange pieces and strawberry chunks

getting ready to use the immersion blender after a 30-minute thaw...you can see a few bits of orange pulp; the strawberry slices sank

This will help give the sorbet the desired consistency.

Return to freezer for a few more hours to re-freeze.

Serve with some extra orange liqueur.

sangria sorbet with mandarin liqueur

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zipping around the hood

I looked around my kitchen and noticed that my cupboard was bare. Actually, more pathetically, my fridge was bare. My fruit bowl was bare. Everything. Bare  bare bare. And with the beautiful weather approaching this weekend, I wanted to have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand.

Friends and family (and some of you) know of my trials and tribulations (and kvetches) grocery shopping in Cambridge/Boston without my own car, my preference for finding kosher goodies in NYC, and my frustration at not having a driver’s license for weeks on end after my wallet was plucked from my purse (long annoying story!). Well, with temporary license in hand, replacement ZipCard at the ready, and a few local foodie recommendations with directions printed, I was ready to set out exploring.

Since Earth Day was this week, I rented a (somewhat less expensive) hybrid for my 3-hour tour. Once you get past having to press a “power button” to start the car, most of the features are similar to a normal car, thought it is not quite as much fun to drive as my old convertible!

My first stop after picking up my fixed computer (yeah computer!) was Tabrizi in Watertown – a Persian (Iranian) bakery that happens to be under supervision by the Boston Vaad.

tabrizi bakery - mararoons, baklava

They also have a good sized selection of packaged food – nuts, teas, and specialty items. I stocked up on rose water, orange blossom water (which I use with many almond recipes, both sweet and savory), and pomegranate concentrate. The owner, Mohammed, was quick to remind me that the pomegranate concentrate is not for drinking, but great for marinating poultry and meats, and can be mixed with balsamic vinegar for a unique sweet and sour flavor (Pomi can be used to substitute but is not as rich). Of course, I could not resist a few freshly baked sweets – walnut and almond macaroons and Persian baklava (made with cardamom) – and soft pistachio nougat.


A word to the wise — when you go to Tabrizi, bring quarters for the meters. As an infrequent driver, I forgot about this and parked across the street in a small lot near a dry cleaners. Though I was only in the bakery for 15 minutes, the evil looks I received from the not-such-gentlemen loitering and watching me from their truck as I left my hybrid and swiftly crossed the street, muttering out loud that I hoped I could park here for just a few minutes — followed by the bright yellow tow truck that was just pulling into the lot as I was deftly backing out of my spot leads me to believe that Watertown does not take kindly to interlopers. In my meager defense, I will say that there were no signs saying that the lot was for that side of the road only. I’m just saying.

(Largely) unfazed by the tow truck that then followed me out the little lot, with only minor thought of “what if this guy follows me for the rest of the day?,” I made my merry way with only a mere three U-turns before I arrived at Russo’s.

The focus at Russo’s is beautiful produce at great prices. Yes, there are flowers and plants outside, and a lovely bakery in the back, and bottles of oils, bags of pasta, bars of chocolate at knee level. But, the gems at Russo’s are fresh from the farm, sometimes still clinging to the earth where they were born, often smelling of their luscious juices inside.

Upon walking into the store, I immediately called ZipCar to find out if I could extend my time because I realized that I would be unlikely to be able to return the car in my allotted 3 hours. Alas, someone had reserved my car and I had no choice but to return the car at the previously agreed-upon hour. I had to be very disciplined. No meandering. No exploring. Just the basics. I had to be back in my car with the power button pushed before 6 pm to make it back to the garage in time. This would be difficult, but I reminded myself that I could always return.

I felt like a heathen as I zipped through the piles of fruits and vegetables rather than strolling. In grocery stores and markets, I am definitely a flâneur, so I felt quite a pull. I did stop to breathe for a moment when one of the men unpacking fruit offered me a taste of mango. I initially turned him down in my rush, as I said (with my best NY strictly business attitude), “thank you, but I know I’m already going to buy the mangoes, so don’t worry about giving me a taste.” The gentleman scolded me, plucked a fruit from the top of the mound, sliced it open, cubed it down to the flesh, and handed it to me. Delicious. He then handed me the second half, happy to see me happy.


My cart filled with zucchini (so cheap that I could not resist…zucchini bread, here I come), dark purple eggplants and  beets, bundles of fresh herbs, several mangos, a few tomatoes, blood oranges, lemons and limes, and La Tourangelle grapeseed oil (“huile de pépins de raisin,” strangely, the La Tourangelle roasted walnut oil they had was not kosher… see Resources), There was almost no line line, and I made it safely to my car with my now very full French re-usable bag in tow.

I did get stuck in traffic and made one wrong turn, so it was a race to get the hybrid back to the garage. I made it. Well, just barely.

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agir aujourd’hui

Good morning, sunshine.

That’s what I thought when it was so bright outside before 7 am that I was dragged out of bed well before my alarm went off. And, my bedroom window faces north, so there are no direct morning rays to heat my covers and tickle me awake as when I lived in a converted warehouse with 20-foot ceilings, windows as high, and an unencumbered Eastward view of the Schuylkill River and Center City from my perch in West Philadelphia. And I never closed my shades (then or now) to encourage as much natural light to hit my skin and improve my mood.

Needless to say, today has been a much better day on all fronts than the past two dreary, grey, rainy ones. So, while a few weeks ago, I took the time to praise G-d for nature, today’s welcome sunshine is a great reminder to thank and take care of our planet. It doesn’t hurt that it’s Earth Day.


Living here in Cantabrigia, I’ve grown accustomed to the evil looks received when I arrive at a check-out counter without a cloth or recycled bag to in which to pack my own groceries. I now have a sizable collection that grows every few months when I decide on a spontaneous grocery trip and can’t fit everything into my purse and feel guilty when asked, “paper or plastic.” And at least around here, you get a small Woolworth-sized rebate when you supply your own.

Of course, other parts of the world lead with a stick, and I have heard that cities in the US have threatened to do the same (Bloomberg threatened  a $0.06 tax on plastic bags last year). 2 years ago when I spent the summer in Paris and Nice, I found that many grocery stores did not even offer bags (nor did they have baggers to help you out). Of course, the French have a long history of carrying their own groceries away from their daily markets in a filet, a cotton mesh bag, or pannier, a basket (a classic French image being a little boy riding home from the bakery with a fresh baguette or two in the basket of his bicycle).

So, eventually I bought one of those re-usable bags, and it has turned out to be one of my favorite purchases in Nice. (Aside from the clothing and my provençal tablecloth, of course). It has stood by me for 2 solid years. It carried overflow stuff when my suitcase exploded and accompanied me on the airplane. I shop with it all the time here in the US and feel uber-chic because, of course, it’s French. And I think I’m French. And it prompts people to speak to me in French. And I love that. And, I fit in with my hippy dippy neighborhood because it’s quite beat-up and worn with use.

Importantly, its message is as green as its color. Agir aujourd’hui pour mieux vivre demain – Act today to live better tomorrow.


sac de Carrefour - Agir aujourd'hui pour mieux vivre demain.

As opposed to most of the bags that I’ve seen in the US, not only is the bag re-usable, but I believe you can return it to the store and exchange it for a new one (“Sac réutililisable, échangable à vie” – Recyclable bag, exchangable for life).


"Sac réutililisable, échangable à vie" - Recyclable bag, exchangable for life

Clearly I need to return to France to check on this policy. I will make any excuse to travel!

Happy Earth Day! Bon Jour de la Terre!

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six million

6 million

Tonight and tomorrow mark Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance day. This memorial day holds special significance to me as the grand-daughter of survivors.

me with my grandparents

Tonight I participated in a  special seder, originally developed by Rabbi Avi Weiss, to ritualize remembrance of the Holocaust. We read from a short book, sitting on the floor as mourners in a darkened room around six candles to represent the 6,000,000 Jews who perished. The evening had four sections: physical destruction, spiritual destruction, destruction of children, and resistance. An important part of the seder is to pass the first-hand experiences of survivors to future generations so that the memories never extinguish and can continue to be passed l’dor va dor (from generation to generation).

Since no survivors were able to join us, I asked my mother to share with me some stories from her mother so that I could re-tell her experience as part of the “resistance” portion since my Bubbie’s attitude, wit, and courage is what helped her survive. Here is what my mother wrote as if she were speaking as her own mother:

I was born in a small town named Sandz (Novisoncz (sp?) in Polish), Poland. Since my mother was busy working in the family business, I was sent to live with my older sister in a larger city Katowicz. I went to school there and because at some point this was a town in Germany (borders changed a lot in those days) the schools taught German as well as Polish and I learned a “high German.” Who knew that it would later help save my life.

Money and diamonds helped some people live through the war if it wasn’t taken away from them by the Germans; knowledge/education was something that they couldn’t take away from you.

I was sent to a labor/work camp when the war broke out. I was in my late teens and thin and pretty; I always looked taller than I was so they thought I was older and would be a good worker. I worked in the kitchen, mainly peeling potatoes for the “potato soup” to be fed to the worker Jews in the camp — peels and water for the Jews, real hearty potato soup for the Germans. There was an adjacent men’s work camp and I could see young teenage boys, 11-12 years old, skin and bones, through the barbed wire fence. They were working hard too and quite hungry. One evening I was leaving the kitchen and stole a pail of potatoes, intended mainly for the teenage boys to keep them alive. On the way back to the barracks with the pail of potatoes, I was seen and stopped by a German guard. He asked me what I had in my hand and I answered in German that it was some potatoes and I was hungry. He said that I was carrying way too many potatoes just for myself and asked what was I going to do with them. I answered him in the best High German that I knew and said, ” They are just for me. Did you think I would be so stupid to just take a few every day and risk getting caught each time? ” He answered, “Verschwind!” in German meaning disappear, and said that I should get out of his sight quickly and never do that again.

My wise-ass German answer helped save my life.

One story that my mother had never heard, but that Bubbie shared with my younger sister was that in addition to working in the kitchen, she also worked in the laundry. This afforded her the opportunity to actually cook the potatoes in hot water under cover.

When my sister was in Israel a few years ago, she took some photographs in Yad VaShem‘s Valley of Destroyed Communities of the cities where my grandparents grew up: Poppie was born in Chrzanów and grew up in Krakow; my Bubbie learned the German that saved her life in Katowice.

Krakow - photo by RySq

Krakow – photo by RySq

picture by RySq

Katowice – picture by RySq

I am proud to say that though my grandparents are no longer alive, they worked hard all of their lives, passing on the legacy of higher education to their children and grandchildren, and even managed to save a few dollars to help provide for future generations. They had “made it” in America. And they did make some investments in jewelry and left this necklace to me which I cherish and wear regularly.

bubbie's necklace

In preparation for the seder, I thought about the potato peels that my grandparents often sustained themselves on. To help reenact part of the resistance experience, I made potato peel crisps.  Don’t be mistaken – this is NOT a dish to remember my grandmother by — I think of her when I eat grapefruit or Chinese food (we used to take her out to Kosher Chinese in Miami and she would always order a hamburger, insisting that she didn’t like Chinese food, and then proceed to pick from all of our plates, exclaiming how much better our dishes were…).

Potato Peel Crisps

I chose russet potatoes for this “recipe.”

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Wash potatoes well to remove any dirt. Peel potatoes and soak in water. Spread in single layer on baking sheet and spray with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes until crisp.

potato peel crisps

Zachor. Remember.

[Thank you to Elisha for sharing this special ritual with me and other members of our community, and encouraging my family to document our stories.]

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On the 3 (yes, only 3) intermediate days of Passover when I could actually research online and digitally capture what I was cooking to make what I was in the mood for, the pull of the kitchen was stronger than that of the computer. Since I firmly believe in only making food on Passover that I would make all year round, I figured it was still legitimate to post these ex post facto.

Scratch that. These are so good, that I will be making them year found. My British and South African friends would call them “moreish.” As in, you eat one and you want to eat more. I have had to hide the cookies in the back of the freezer to prevent myself from sneaking. The worst is that I made two different types of cookies because I could not decide between almonds or hazelnuts. So, I ended up with one light, crispy, and flat. The other dark, chewy, and puffed.


Everyone who tries them side-by-side has a favorite. What I find is that, like eating salty followed by sweet, if you alternate, it’s hard to stop.

First I start with an amaretti disc. I made them the size of quarters. I thought they would rise. They didn’t. But I’ll gladly take them this way.  These light crunchy little guys snap between your front teeth if you can force yourself to eat them in 2 bites. Granted, they are the perfect size for grabbing by the handful and popping into your mouth one right after the other. All gone, before you even knew you had them. Sort of like losing poker chips. But at the end of the night, the house doesn’t win. You do. And you smile. And this recipe makes so many little guys to shuffle around in your palm that you can always reach for more.

The gianduia is a whole other story. The diameter is about the same. But these are dense and fudgey. When you bite in, you leave teeth-marks. My goal here was to capture the taste of my favorite gelato flavors – nociolla and gianduia. I had some Droste cocoa powder, so gianduia it was. And I added egg yolks in the process of experimenting, but this mimics a gelato recipe (sort of?), so it’s all good.

Amaretti coins

amaretti, fresh from the oven

amaretti, fresh from the oven

Inspired by the little almond bites I first tried in Italy. You can find these in various forms in supermarkets and gourmet stores. A classic is the  Amaretti di Saronno in their collectible red tins, made from apricon kernels (“the poor man’s almond”) — plus they’re O-U (parve). And then of course, there are the online recipes that I scoured for inspiration. Essentially, there are a few decisions to make when baking your own: To beat the egg whites or not? (I chose not.) What type of almonds to start with? (I chose pre-ground because that’s what I had.)  To fill or not to fill? (I left mine pure because they were too crispy and flat.) The end result – super easy, prolific yield, and very moreish.

I (virtually) consulted Deb at Smitten Kitchen, Garrett at Simply Recipes, All Recipes (with US and metric conversions), and a hard copy recipe for “Almond Delights” that Ellie, the Baking Architect sent me a few years ago.

Makes ~150 little quarter to half-dollar sized cookies

– 2 C ground almonds (I used pre-ground); you can also use raw almonds, blanched, slivered, etc. The larger the nut, the more you’ll need to get to 2 C. We’re talking chemistry here…volume, mass, you get the idea. My guess is something like 2.5 slivered almonds, 3 heaping C whole almonds.

– 1 C sugar; most recipes call for more (remember, marzipan already has sugar in it). These cookies are sweet with only 1 C.

– 3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of orange flower water or amaretto liqueur

Preheat oven to 300º F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, pulse together the ground almonds (or whole/blanched/slivered, etc. almonds) and sugar. The sugar will help keep the mix granular and prevent this from turning into almond butter. Keep pulsing rather than letting your processor go while you leave the room for 5 minutes.

Add the vanilla and orange flower water extract and pulse for a few seconds. Add the eggs and continue to process until the dough is smooth.

Put into plastic bag (see below how I  fold my “piping bag” over a glass to fill it single-handedly), zip up, snip off corner,  and pipe into quarter sized circles. Leave about 1/2 – 3/4 inch between cookies. I was able to fit up to 40 on a single (medium-sized) cookie sheet.

how to easily fill a substitue piping bag

how to single-handedly fill a poor girl's version of a "piping bag" without spills

Bake 20 – 24 minutes. The cookies slip easily off the parchment.

Supposedly if you underbake them, they will be chewy — I could not get this to happen. Oh well!

Gianduia cookie bites

gianduia cookies cooling

Most flourless chocolate nut cookies call for real chocolate, but I only had cocoa powder available. And, like the amaretti discs above, they call for egg whites only. I checked out some chocolate almond cookies such as this version from Gourmet and recreated by Kelly over at Sass and Veracity, but I didn’t have the patience for rolling out a dough. I really wanted to just pipe away, and when I get my mind set on something, I’m hard to sway. Since baking is chemistry, the least I could do is experiment. I figured I’d add a few egg yolks to the batter until it was closer to the amaretti consistency so that I could pipe nice little quarters onto my parchment. I mean, between the 2 recipes, I had already used 6 whites and could just not bear to throw out more yolks. Plus, doesn’t gelato have lots of egg yolks in it? So, 1 yolk. Still a dark brown crumbly mess, yearning for a rolling pin. A second yolk. Getting better. A dash more vanilla. Sold!

Well, I ended up rolling out little balls and plopping them onto the parchment. They worked out well, but the whole experimentation process left my kitchen a bit of a mess. I could have also used a teaspoon to make drop cookies as suggested in The PepperMill’s recipe (that I of course forgot I had until after the fact), but as you may already know, I tend to prefer a hands-on approach.

Makes about 60

2 C  ground hazelnuts (sometimes called filberts) – or use whole or chopped hazelnuts, ideally skins removed, but you’ll really work your poor little food processor (especially if you only have a little “chop chop” like mine)

1 C sugar

1/2 C cocoa

3 egg whites + 2 yolks (aka, 2 eggs, 1 extra white)

2 t vanilla extract

Extra sugar for dusting parchment

Preheat oven to 300º F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind together the ground hazelnuts (or whole) and sugar. The sugar will help keep the mix granular and prevent this from turning into hazelnut butter. Keep pulsing as above.

Add the vanilla and pulse for a few seconds. Add the 2 eggs and continue to process until the dough is smooth. Add one egg white.

[NOTE – In the spirit of full disclosure and complete veritas, I must admit that I first beat the 3 egg whites to soft peaks, folded in the chocolate-nut mix, but it just looked like a crumbly mess. So I returned the mixture to my little “chop chop” after grumbling to myself about more dishes to wash, and gave that little motor a whirl with two of  the eggs other halves. You do not need to repeat my trials and tribulations. I assure you that maybe whipping the egg whites makes a difference for pure amaretti, but add cocoa powder or chocolate with the nuts, and I think it’s a lost cause.]

Do NOT try to put into a bag and pipe as with the amaretti above. This will not work. I know because I tried. The first mini-batch looked like a little bunny hopped across the parchment and left little, ahem, gifts. And I’m not talking about Easter eggs. But, I got a method down pretty quickly. Once I extricated the batter from my bursting at the seams ziplock-come-piping bag.

First, sprinkle some sugar onto the parchment paper. This will help release the cookies after baking.

Then, roll the dough into marble-sized balls (~1 t each). The dough is pretty sticky (due to the egg yolk addition), so keep a bowl of cold water handy for frequent finger dipping. I even dipped the little gianduia balls in the water to help shape them – the water made no difference to the cookies once baked and they just looked prettier.

Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Remove parchment from baking sheet and allow to cool completely on parchment (at least 5 minutes) before trying to remove. If you remove early, the centers will stick. The easiest way I found to remove the cookies is to twist them carefully off of the parchment.

guanduia cooling on parchment

gianduia cookies cooling on parchment

Buon Appetito!

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grapefruit mint sorbet

I got the idea to make a grapefruit mint sorbet from Mimi over at Israeli Kitchen and have had 2 Ruby Reds sitting in my fruit bowl for several days. I’ve been playing with simple syrups and was hoping to have enough mint in my windowsill garden, but, alas, had to wait for yesterday’s shopping trip to stock up. And today I set to work.

The 2 grapefruits only made 1.5 C of juice, so I had to supplement with a bit of juice. No biggie — I had that in the fridge.

What surprised me was seeing the grapefruit juice next to the syrup. The colors looked like jewel tones. Not the precious jewels such as sapphire, my favorite. But the semi-precious kind, like turquoise and blue topaz, my birthstones that I have never liked. I gained a new appreciation for semi-precious jewels, their tones captured by the two liquids I made — rose quartz and peridot, one opaque, the other translucent — beautiful juxtaposed and simply refreshing when mixed and frozen.

freshly squeezed ruby red juice and mint simple syrup (1:1)

Grapefruit mint sorbet

Adapted from Mimi at Israeli Kitchen

Serves 6-8

1 C water

1 C sugar

1 small handful of mint

2 C freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (I used 2 ruby red grapefruits and had to supplement with ~1/2 C  Tropicana)

Make a simple syrup: Bring water sugar and mint to slow boil until sugar dissolves. Stir mint leaves every once in a while. Once sugar dissolves, allow mix to cool and infuse mint for another 10 minutes or so.

Juice both grapefruits; remove seeds. Strain out pulp if you’d like (I prefer to keep it in).

grapefruit juiced and mint infusing in simple syrup

Once the syrup cools, strain mint, and add to 2 C juice. (Note, I actually made extra mint simple syrup — 3 C each of water, sugar, and a large handful of mint and then added about 1.5 C of the syrup to the juice. I puured the remainder of the simple syrup into a bottle and keep it in my fridge for sweetening iced tea.)

getting ready to mix

Freeze in flat container for 5 hours.

grapefruit mint sorbet - frozen, pre-aerated

Aerate with immersion blender. Freeze for 3-4 more hours. Allow to thaw 15-20 minutes before scooping to serve. The texture remains a bit closer to a granita, but is delicious and refreshing.

scoops of grapefruit mint sorbet

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springtime greenery

Despite my best intentions of eating a lot of fruits and vegetables over Passover, I often end up overloading on protein. My meals over the past few days have looked a lot like this: breakfast – eggs; lunch – leftover matzah ball soup (my mom’s); dinner – leftover brisket. Lather rinse repeat.

I finally had enough and trekked to three different grocery stores in my neighborhood to see what was inspring. My local Indian store (Shalimar on Mass Ave) had some great fresh herbs as usual and a nice eggplant – I’ll be trying Janna Gur’s “burnt eggplant” method soon but not tonight. Asparagus was on sale at Shaw’s. I had a few avocados in my fridge and picked up some tomatoes at Harvest, but wasn’t in the mood for guac. Here’s what I ended up with for a nice springtime salad.

Asparagus Avocado Salad

asparagus avocado salad

Adapted from Avodaco Recipes. I used 2 good-sized pinches of salt to balance out the sweetness in the dressing from the sugar and balsamic and the tartness from the citrus. It complements the asparagus nicely. You don’t need to use all the dressing for this salad (of you can just make more veggies).

Serves 2 (or 1 very hungry, veggie-deprived girl)

1.5 lb of asparagus

1 medium avocado

Juice of 1 lemon or 1 lime (I used half of each because that’s what I had lying around)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of fresh cilantro

1 ½ tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar, or white wine vinegar if you don’t have white balsamic

1 teaspoon of sugar

1 teaspoon of fresh mint

Salt and pepper, to taste

Break off the tough ends of the asparagus, then steam until just tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.

Plunge the asparagus into cold water to stop cooking. Drain well. Set aside.

Peel the avocado and slice the flesh (I cubed when I realized that slices were too delicate). Toss with half the lemon juice.

sliced avocado

For the dressing, whisk the white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, remaining half of citrus juice, sugar, mint and cilantro.

Add salt and pepper to taste, then pour over the asparagus and add avocado

Toss lightly, then spoon into a suitably sized bowl.

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